On our second Friday off in May, I had the privilege of being the speaker at the Education Commissioning Ceremony at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.
I was extremely excited to be able to share some of my thoughts on being a teacher with all of the new education graduates, but I was also extremely nervous!
This post is the speech that I gave and I apologize for it being a bit long and without pictures.
Thank you so much for the honor of speaking at this year’s Education Commissioning Ceremony. It seems as though it was only moments ago that I was in your place; excited about becoming a “real” teacher, nervous about finding my first job, but mostly, just relieved to have finally finished my portfolio. Congratulations to those of you who have made it this far. You have accomplished so much.
As I thought about what I wanted to share with you today, I could not help but ask myself what I would have wanted, or even more importantly, what I would have needed to hear as a college graduate looking to become a new teacher. What truths served, and still serve, as anchors for me along my journey as a teacher? What are those things that I have held on to when the going gets tough, the days are long and the homework that needs to be graded just keeps piling higher and higher? Because it is during these times, that if there is nothing to hold on to, then this profession that we call teaching seems all too impossible.
Truth #1: God will place you just where He needs you.
This truth was especially important for me as I was searching for my first job. I applied for jobs all over Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, Texas, and Colorado and, in my desperation, I may have even applied for a job in Jamaica. And even though I believed that God had called me to be a teacher, the interviews just didn’t seem to happen or the return calls never came. I didn’t have enough experience or the right certification. And in all this, it becomes extremely easy to question God’s plan.
As graduation came and went and the summer progressed and I still didn’t have a job, I had to hold on to the truth that God had a plan for me and, eventually, that plan began to unfold. Through it all, I was able to obtain my dream job teaching seventh grade life science at Central Middle School. It was a good mix of middle school drama, insect collections, dissections and science fair projects. It was a perfect fit. However, after two years, a cut in the budget meant one less science teacher in the district and I, being the newest, was the one to go. And even though I had thanked God over and over for directing my path to Central, I had a really tough time acknowledging the fact that He could be leading me away. Instead, I got mad. Mad at the school. Mad at Bartlesville school district. Mad at the teachers who got to keep their jobs. Mad at the unfairness of it all. I had let go of my anchor. I had forgotten truth number one. It took some wonderful people in my life to remind me that God is continually working in our lives to place us where He needs us.
After leaving Central, I became the environmental science teacher at the high school and I can say with one hundred percent certainty that it has been just as much a blessing and a positive experience as Central was. I have grown as both a teacher and an individual. And now that there is an opportunity to go back to Central next year, it’s not quite as easy of a decision as I thought it would be. God knew what He was doing in my life and He knows what He is doing in yours, as well.
“In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Proverbs 3:6
Truth #2: The first year really will almost kill you.
It doesn’t matter how many times you hear this truth, experiencing the reality of it is shockingly severe. Because even though your education professors here have done a wonderful job preparing you, they can only carry you so far.
I can still remember the very first hour of my first day as a teacher. And as I stood in front of my class trying to remember my lesson plans and what I was going to say, the only thing that I could think was, “Oh no, they’re going to realize that I’m a fake and that I have no idea what I’m doing!” But they didn’t, or at least they didn’t say anything if they did. And I eventually progressed from just plain faking it to being a confident faker and then somewhere along the way, I started to believe in myself and actually became a true teacher. As you are going through process of becoming a real teacher, show your students grace and mercy as they learn and they will do the same for you. They will grow as students and you as a teacher.
Looking back to that first year, I remember ending quite a few days sitting at my desk with my head in my hands, questioning if I could do it again even just one more day. But I could and I did and you can, too. Just say a little prayer, start working on yet another lesson plan and know that year number two will be so much easier.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
Truth #3: It is good work that we do.
What a noble calling it is to be a teacher. To commit your time and effort to teaching children, because whether they are eight or eighteen, they are still children, not just what they need to know to succeed in school, but to show them what it means to live a life of love, honesty and joy.
It is a big task, for sure. To know that you have nine months, nine quick months, to get to know them, learn their stories and then figure out how to love them. And don’t forget the part about figuring out how to motivate them to participate, to interact and to learn.
Yes, it is a good work that we do, but it is a difficult work, as well. So often, I envy those who do not have lesson plans to create in the evenings, papers to grade in the mornings and supplies to buy with their own money. Sometimes I imagine how wonderful it must be to leave work on a Friday evening and to not have it enter my mind until eight o’clock on Monday morning. Sometimes I imagine what it must be like to get a big paycheck. But then, a student will tell me that I’m the only one they have to talk to, or that if it weren’t for the happiness in my room, they wouldn’t have come to school. They will come to you with problems and worries and tears. They will share their success and excitement and laughter. And then, you will know that what we do is good work.
And because it won’t be said enough, let me say it to each one of you now.
I believe with all of my heart that there is no bigger mission field than in a classroom. Each and every day that your students walk into your classroom, you have the opportunity to share with them a little bit of Heaven or a little bit of hell. They see so much of the latter in the world all around them. Above all things, make it a point to show them love.
You will find your own anchors and travel your own journey, but maybe the three truths that I have shared today will help you along your way. Just remember that God will place you just where He needs you, the first year really will almost kill you and it is good work that we do. I leave you now with an adaptation of the Great Commission.
Therefore, go and teach all children, immersing them in the love of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, showing them how to live as I have commanded. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:19
Speech given at the Oklahoma Wesleyan University Education Commissioning Ceremony, in Bartlesville, OK, on May 10, 2012
By Kacey Torres, Teacher